Jewish Journal

The Circuit

by Michael Aushenker

Posted on Apr. 12, 2001 at 8:00 pm

The Honorable Mr. Villaraigosa

The Circuit was there when the Israel Humanitarian Foundation (IHF) held its annual fundraising dinner. And don't ever accuse IHF -- the outreach organization that supports humanitarian, educational, and health efforts throughout the United States and Israel -- of not being topical. This year's International Humanitarian Award honoree was mayoral hopeful Antonio Villaraigosa, at the height of the campaign season, no less.

Originally slated for late 2000, the dinner had to be postponed following last October's outbreak of Middle East violence, to which the IHF responded with immediate assistance.

"Israel knows and values what you have done," said Israel Consul General Yuval Rotem. "IHF has only redoubled its efforts for Israel in its time of need."

Villaraigosa, who skipped a broadcast debate with his rival candidates to attend the IHF affair, brought something rare to the event -- his family. Wife Corina, who seldom appears at public events, came with daughter Natalia and son Antonio Jr. Villaraigosa noted this as testimony to how important the evening was to his family.

According to IHF's National Campaign Director and Western Region Executive Director Geoffrey Gee, the point of the evening was not to back a political candidate but to thank "a longtime and beloved friend of Israel and the Jewish people." Gee and Rick Icaza, who co-chaired the event with Ron Burkle, pointed to Villaraigosa's aggressive campaign to promote Jewish-Hispanic relations; his help in securing state-tax exemptions on Holocaust reparation monies; his outreach during the North Valley JCC shooting incident; and his participation in the Jewish Federation's Super Sunday campaign.

"You have picked a most honorary gentleman," agreed Terri Smooke, special liaison to Gov. Gray Davis. "Antonio's priorities are the same as the IHF: education, health, community, and helping those in need."

Retired medical researcher Dr. Bracha Rachmilewitz, who had flown in from Jerusalem, recounted her harrowing childhood odyssey of survival during the Holocaust. Rachmilewitz is proud of her association with IHF, which, she said, works for the day when "there will be no concentration camps, no displacement camps, no Exodus."

Before the event began, Villaraigosa shared with the Circuit memories of his Roosevelt High School days living in multiethnic Boyle Heights, where Latino, Jewish, Armenian, and Japanese immigrants lived side by side.

"It really was the Ellis Island of the West," he said.

From the podium, Villaraigosa spoke of the two seminal influences on his young life: his late mother, Natalia, who was "ahead of her time," he said, bringing together people of all ethnicities in her home, and Herman Katz, the Boyle Heights teacher who saw potential in the young Villaraigosa (by his own account, a troubled youth coming from a home filled with alcoholism and domestic abuse). Katz encouraged Villaraigosa to continue his education, even paying for his SAT.

But the special person in Villaraigosa's life these days is his wife, whom he thanked from the podium before praising the rich cultural tapestry that is Los Angeles and the rewards of community involvement.

"It's not enough for us to be doctors and lawyers or even the mayor of L.A. The point is not to go up to the mountain alone. The point is to bring people with you up to the mountain, to give back."

That's something that both Villaraigosa and IHF vow to continue doing.

For more information on Israel Humanitarian Foundation, call (888) 732-5391 or go to www.ihf.net.

Foundation Donations

Mark Lainer, chairman of the board of the Jewish Community Foundation, presented the CLARE Foundation with a $5,000 grant toward its Detox/Primary program. Funds will go toward the purchase of new linens, comforters and pillows for the program's formerly homeless participants.

The foundation also presented a $10,000 grant to Operation Unity, a program targeting at-risk public high school students. The grant will be used to fund the Operation Unity Young Ambassadors of Harmony Speakers Bureau, composed of high school participants in the organization's 6-week Kibbutz Program in Israel, said the program's founder and executive director, Cookie Lommel.

Since 1954, the Jewish Community Foundation has become the largest central clearinghouse of Jewish philanthropy in Southern California, with assets of more than $318 million.

Academy's Awards

More than 1,000 guests were present as Dr. Isaac Wiener and Geraldine Golomb Wiener were honored for their service to Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy at its 52nd Annual Scholarship Banquet. D'or L'Dor recipients Moishe and Rivka Loboda and Alumna of the Year Lulu Ezra Fensten were also honored.

Marilyn Golomb Selber, Geraldine Wiener's sister, announced the endowment of the Dr. Morris and Eve Golomb Excellence in Teaching Award, which will be presented annually to an outstanding member of the Academy's faculty at the school's graduation ceremonies.

Special Delivery

This year, Robert Klein took to the mic and unspooled his trademark social observations for Comedy Night at the Hollywood Palladium, an annual membership-drive tradition sponsored by The Guardians of the Jewish Home for the Aging of Greater Los Angeles.

Ghetto Gathering

A special tribute will be held commemorating the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising at the Los Angeles Yiddish Culture Club. The Workmen's Circle/Arbeter Ring, Yiddishkayt L.A., The Sholem Community, Emma Lazarus Jewish Women's Club, Society for Humanistic Judaism, Progressive Jewish Alliance, Labor Zionist Alliance, Meretz USA-Hashomer Hatzair and the Los Angeles Yiddish Culture Club will co-sponsor the event, which is free to the public. For information, call (310) 552-2007.

Contest of Champions

Two triumphs to report...

Elana Simon of Temple Ahavat Shalom is one of six winners of a nationwide "Tsa'ar Ba'alei Chayyim" (compassion for the suffering of animals) 2000-2001 Contest," sponsored by Concern for Helping Animals in Israel (CHAI) and the Schechter Foundation...

Jewish Television Network's first-year PBS show, "New Jewish Cuisine," with host Jeff Nathan, has received a nomination from the James Beard Foundation in the category of Viking Range Best National Television Cooking Show. The annual awards are given for excellence in the field of food and wine.

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